|Ken Druse, Keynoter, Green Industry Intern Field Day, NYBG|
It was balmy weather – perfect for a day to spend in the Garden.
Well every day is a good day to spend in the Garden but this was a day to herald because it promised so much.
It would not be too dramatic to say the future of horticulture was on display almost as much as the plants throughout the 250 acres at The New York Botanical Garden (NYBG).
See, The School of Professional Horticulture was hosting the first-ever Green Industry Intern Field Day, aka Hortie Hoopla, July 24 at NYBG, created especially for those “interested in a career in horticulture, ecology, landscape design, or ecological restoration – for anyone who loves working with plants and wants to improve our environment and the world by doing so.”
Hortie Hoopla is the poignant brainchild of Charles Yurgalevitch, Director of the School of Professional Horticulture, NYBG.
He said he was inspired to produce the event after reading Ken Druse’s article “The New Generation” in the April issue of Organic Gardening Magazine as noted in the Garden Glamour post of July 21st: http://gardenglamour-duchessdesigns.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-new-york-botanical-garden-hosts.html
On the morning of the Green Industry Intern Field Day event, Charles welcomed the 80-plus attendees and got right to citing some rather grim statistics.
Approximately 72% of horticulture jobs go wanting because botanic gardens and parks and arboretum cannot find skilled workers
Sound crazy, doesn’t it? Especially in a world where – the job market is improving – most are still on edge. So these kinds of career vacancies are startling, to say the least.
Charles noted that the Royal Horticulture Society (RHS) is working hard to remedy the perception that working with plants is not worthwhile.
He’d recently returned from the UK where he met with education professionals at the RHS, the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew and the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh to collaborate on joint or exchange internship opportunities.
In a curious coincidence – I saw a news story in the London Daily Telegraph about this topic from the April 13th newspaper.
My dear Junior League girlfriend, Corinne Takasaki, who co-owns NYC’s City Frame, was in London with her now/new husband James and because she is so ever-thoughtful, sent me the gardening section of the paper knowing how much I’d enjoy the garden stories and full-color photos.
I was filing this newspaper section just the other day when I saw what was at the April juncture timeframe, an inconsequential story written by Ken Thompson (because it wasn’t about actual plants, per se) I'd overlooked.
Now, it was quite salient in light of the Green Industry Intern Field Day.
It’s title? “What’s Wrong with a Growth Industry Job?”
“Horticulture is an ideal career for young people, say’s writer Ken Thompson – if only they knew about it.”
I had to stop and think.
Were Ken (Druse) – horticulturist, author and photographer of 18 books, writer and speaker from this side of the pond separated at birth from the UK’s Ken?
Ken (Thompson) is a plant biologist, writer and speaker who has written four gardening books.
(Our Ken has the Brit Ken books beat by a factor of more than three. So there. We won the Revolution, too. Ha! Sorry for the Yanks competitive nature.)
At almost the same time that “our” Ken Druse wrote his groundbreaking story for Organic Gardening that helped inspire Charles to produce the Green Industry Field Day aka the "Hortie Hoopla," it seems that the UK Ken was bemoaning the crisis in “home-grown job applicants” not pursuing a career in horticulture.
As if a mirror reflection of Charles’ opening sad statistics, the Telegraph’s feature previewed a new, at that time, report from the Royal Horticultural Society “Horticulture Matters” which was to be released for National Gardening Week (April 15-21)
The report, which was presented to Parliament, (hello, US Congress?) noted that almost half of under 25s do not think gardening is a skilled career in spite of that country’s massive youth unemployment and nearly 70% of 18 year-olds think gardening should be considered only for dropouts and a career not to be proud of – which is in direct contrast with those age 40 and over who hold the exact opposite opinion.
Horticulture has been “awash with career changers,” the article cited.
The other Ken noted that young people “all too readily associate gardening with the bloke driving a gang mower endlessly around the local park, or the old chap they see tending his cabbages on the allotment.”
He writes the RHS does a sterling work in getting gardening into primary school, (we don’t, despite the increase in Edible School Gardens) but they fall down later in secondary school.
I don't know about you but I think our secondary school effort is non-existent…
Charles concluded his opening remarks by saying,
“We are here today to tell you that plants are vitally important to our lives.”
Charles then introduced Keynote speaker: “our” Ken - Druse, the garden superstar and host of Real Dirt, commenting how Ken shares the vision that it is most important to help teach and promote the next generation of gardeners.
Ken got right to it. My notes show he quoted a New York Times story about our coming food crisis and made a powerful argument as to how the green industry holds the keys to our future, citing strategies that include learning science to plant and grow and restore green space, address the seed crisis and increase native plantings and promote the use of locally produced compost to lock in carbon in the soil. (NY Times: “increasing organic matter in their fields from 1 percent to 5 percent, farmers can increase water storage in the root zones from 33 pounds per cubic meter to 195 pounds.”)
Shock and awe.
Ken had them eating out of the palm of his hand.
Besides, Ken is a brilliant, talented speaker.
He mixes the banal (suburbia’s tree volcano crimes and $2 million house with the $30 garden);
to the WTF (the YouTube video of the half-clad man wearing a gardening belt showing how to plant an instant garden) Yikes!
to the sublime (the loss of Garden Design magazine)
See also my compelling post about Garden Design Magazine:
Ken also spoke to the power of plants and nature: the loss of his Garden State country house garden due to Hurricane Irene and flooding and Superstorm Sandy, Monsanto and GMO and how the Vertical Garden market is not sustainable…
With visuals to amplify his talk the presentation was a mix of cautionary hort tales and exhortation to be proud of what they do and imagine a better, greener world.
“Horticulture is a profession,” Ken stated. He quoted fellow horticulturist, Pat Cullina, who famously said, “People go to school for it.”
His use of industry inside knowledge to make a few jokes helped bind the intern audience to Ken and to one another. They get it. I could almost see the thought bubbles as they laughed: “We are special.” “We know better and more.”
See, the interns and hort professionals are in on the joke.
And nothing bonds like a snarky, let’s make fun of the Cretans and uneducated like a real-world scenario...
Ken also teased to great effect that perhaps a social media solution to get more people to appreciate plants and especially trees is not to proclaim his motto: “We’d be dead without trees” (I liked it: it’s catchy, short and true.)
But to change the name or moniker of “trees” to what the Tarheel Keith Lubowski calls trees, “Earth Kittens!” Ha!
For those not on social media or under a rock, see Forbes magazine, “How Puppies and Kittens can Save Your Social Media Strategy.”
Ken offered optimism and hope too.
“We need to teach municipalities that horticulture = money.”
He pointed to the city of Chicago and its ability to generate millions of tourism dollars as a result of the gardens and rooftop gardens and botanic garden.
“Here in New York, the High Line attracts visitors from all over the world and it has changed the neighborhoods,” he said.
“Nature means big business.”
He described how we can promote living art to the public; citing as examples: Chanticleer, Greenwood Gardens, and the Brooklyn Grange to name a few, where green investments yield profitable enterprise.
Ken also played with the notion that edible gardens are “Gateway Drugs” to ornamental gardening. “Gardens also feed souls,” he lectured.
Ken stressed the importance of telling stories about plants – about creating narratives for their history, their design and their contribution to nature’s compositions.
Plus “Plants are living things,” Ken admonished.
It’s not all turf and grass. As some here and in the UK it seems are wont to think…
He reminded the audience of interns that it wasn’t that long ago that there wasn’t the opportunity to even study botany. Prior to 1905 scientists were focused on animal husbandry and agriculture not cultivated plants.
But the new science captured young people’s imaginations – and it can do so today.
Ken threw out a challenge and laid down the gauntlet – or trowel:
“Is there a gardening problem?”
Rhetorically, he answered, “It’s up to you.”
Emma Seniuk, Chanticleer Gardener
Next up was Emma Seniuk, who as a gardener at the exquisite Chanticleer Garden, talked about her three-step journey to a career in horticulture.
She began working in a greenhouse at age 18 by first opening up the telephone book – which is an anachronistic reference to what can only be used as a booster seat today. Back then she needed the phone book to look up “flowers.”
She got the job and grew flowers with a third generation of growers.
The next move was a big step on the hort track. At Longwood Gardens she realized she could make a living as a gardener.
And then, after hearing Fergus Garrett of Great Dixter at Winterthur talk at a Longwood Gardens’ symposium, she was invited to work and study for a year in England for yet another step. “I learned creative gardening there, worked hard and grabbed every opportunity,” Emma advised. “And you need to have tremendous faith in people,” she added enthusiastically.”
Ethne Clarke, Editor in Chief, Organic Gardening
Charles introduced me to Ethne prior to the presentation and we spoke briefly while we sat in the auditorium waiting for the talks to commence.
But it was only after Ethne’s brief talk that I had to tell her that she certainly has lived a charmed horticultural life!
Besides her current, lofty position at Organic Gardening, she lived in the UK for more than 30 years, arriving there from Chicago to work on the Encyclopedia of Gardening that was to be published in the US.
“They had to ‘Americanize’ the text posting.” She joked that she could read and take out the “U” in color – and consequently got the job!
She was soon clipping roses in her tennis gardens!
“I stand here before you to encourage you to follow your bliss,” she advised with a happy smile. “Follow your bliss for you – and for the world you ‘ll inherit.”
Ethne’s newest book, An Infinity of Graces is about Cecil Ross Pinsent, the estate and villa garden designer – an English expat who lived in Florence.
While in Florence, she said she was urged by an elderly man she knew “to find out everything you can about Cecil.” She did keep at it plus others offered input until it was all transformed into a beautiful book: http://www.amazon.com/An-Infinity-Graces-Architect-Landscape/dp/0393732215
Ethne told the interns she looks forward to seeing them in upcoming editorials in the magazine and announced the “Next Generation” would be an annual feature!
The Garden Tours and Supper
No Green Field Day could be considered education and fun without a tour of the Garden’s Living Collections.
On this day, there was also a scavenger hunt of sorts to track down five marked plants that were to be ID’d (and I do mean Marked – one had the answer right on the Conservatory tree!) Too easy!
In contrast, NYBG’s Francesco Coelho told me that she had preferred to mark the Desert House’s Uncarina decaryi – a South African tree that was blooming a sunny yellow – but was told no, that would be too challenging an ID.
The ID was an industry fun challenge.
The touring of the gardens with fellow horticulture professionals was so much of what the day was about. The camaraderie, mutual respect for what they do and are passionate about.
I very much liked the Four Seasons display on the lily pool terraces created by Philip Haas, American Filmmaker and artist.
I also stopped in to see John at the Shop in the Garden (www.nybg.org) and see how my book was doing. There was only one left – I signed it. John said they had another case and I should stop back to sign. I must return soon!
I encountered an intern from Stone Barns, Vanessa Harmony, who is so emblematic of the hope and pride in Green Industry Interns – she could be the poster child or the face of a merit badge.
As we toured the Collections together I got to learn about her background – she is a student of the world, having grown up with stints in Colorado and Jakarta and Dallas and Pennsylvania and Canada.
When asked what she wants to do, she replied without a moment’s hesitation and with direct authority, “I want to help connect people with nature and pursue my passion for healing humans’ connection with Nature and our food systems.”
Take my hand, Vanessa!
She possesses a calm and knowledgeable presence. She inspires trust. She is enchanting…
“It’s hard to get people to engage with plants and food is a universal thing...” Vanessa opined.
Yes, food is magical…
Vanessa hopes to combine her growing, harvesting, foraging, and organization and communication skills earned during her passage working as a project manager for ePharmaSoultions doing social media, marketing, and organizing clinical trials.
Vanessa appreciates how the farmers and the chefs at Stone Barns collaborate on new, seasonal farm to table dishes.
As a card-carrying enthusiast of Dan Barber, his menus, food thought leadership and Jack Algiere and their soil management, I can readily understand Vanessa’s adventure and admiration for the food and agriculture program at Stone Barns Center where she helps maintain the food production gardens, coordinates harvests of the culinary and floral herbs and leads educational foraging walks for the chefs and bartenders. http://www.stonebarnscenter.org
The day concluded – appropriately - with a supper in the Family Garden.
I’d promised Charles I’d help get things set up there.
After hitching a golf cart ride over with a former NYBG employee, I entered the Family Garden and marveled again at its charm, organization and edible displays.
Everything was so picture perfect at the dining area – also the site for the very successful Mario Batali’s Kitchen Gardens and Family Dinners. (See post from my other blog: http://celebritychefsandtheirgardens.blogspot.com/2013/07/family-dinners-with-mario-batalis-chefs.html)
I joked with guests and Annie Novak, Manager of the Garden’s Edible Academy located in the Family Garden, that there must really be three of her! She is seemingly ubiquitous. And successful at everything her green thumb touches.
|Annie Novak, NYBG Edible Academy|
For the Hortie supper, Annie and her team were in full charge of the bbq, HUGE sub sandwiches from Arthur Avenue
Here is where the hobnobbing and networking sparkle.
This is the immeasurable metric that fosters success for an event like this.
As I’ve said to Charles, corporations create many team-building events so that staff can experience and learn the true meaning of working in strength as a team.
Horticulturists don’t get this chance, especially as they usually work in a solitary way whether they work for a botanic garden or a private estate. Often, the only time they come together as a group is in the lunchroom or holiday party.
The first-ever Green Industry Field Day was memorable and successful and I’m glad I was there to report on this milestone.
I was able to give witness to a future of foraging and farming and gardens.
Don’t miss Ken Druse’s Real Dirt interview with Charles: